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Atlas Obscura’s Guide to Epic LARPs

From the heated melee of fantasy role-play to the living history of military reenactment to individual personas adopted by cosplayers, this is the definitive guide to the world’s most epic alternate reality events.  This one’s for the LARPers. 


Pennsic War, United States

The battle for Pittsburgh rages onward!

Its a fine day in a Pennsylvania meadow, when suddenly the ground begins to shake and thousands of warriors in medieval armor thunder over the hills on either side of you.  From the froth covered mouth of a raging knight comes the words: “The Pennsic War Has Beguuuuun!”

A portmanteau of Pennsylvania and Punic War, the Pennsic event sees two of the largest armies from the Society for Creative Anachronism, the Kingdom of the East and the Kingdom of  the Middle Kingdom, clash on the field of imaginary battle for that ultimate prize: Pittsburgh. This 2-week event draws over 10,000 people each year to walk in the shoes of a 17th century citizen. In addition to the martial activities, the small town that springs up around the happening offers period appropriate merchants of every stripe, an Artisan’s Row, and classes on eras from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance.

As an event of the Society for Creative Anachronism, the supernatural is largely absent from the Pennsic War. However the official guide does warn that you should stay away from glow-in-the-dark drinks should you participate in the “night life.”  (Photo)      

 

Conquest: Mythodea, Germany

Like WOW, IRL.

Fantasy is usually the first genre that springs to mind when speaking of LARPing, and there is no larger fantasy event than Germany’s Conquest: Mythodea.

Featuring over 5000 players and over 1600 NPC’s (non-player characters), this massive event allows players to quest over five days in the world of Mythodea.  Players are separated by camps such as the Dwarves, the Underground, and a camp for each of the four elements as they play out over 1000 different plot-lines that grow and retain continuity from year to year.  Given the awesome scope of the event, the costuming and set building are no less impressive with near film-quality make-up and armor filling each camp which have themselves been built to accent the theme; the Seafarer’s camp looks like a number of boats, while the Orc camp is all rough wood planks and tribal graffiti.

Conquest: Mythodea manages to seemingly create an elaborate world of sorcery and harrowing adventure that is a far cry from a gathering of amateur swordsmen at a municipal park. (Photo)     

 

Anthrocon, Pittsburgh, United States

Dogs and cats, living together, mass fandom.

While most conventions offer a LARP activity or cosplay event, at furry-gathering Anthrocon, the LARP is the point. Furries, or fans of anthropomorphous animals, are a growing population of cos-play fandom and this convention is where they can come and let their fur down.  

The annual convention caters to furry-centric interests with workshops on animation and costume-building, and theme-appropriate art show. More famously, many of the attendees have their own full-body fursuit and invented persona which they wear freely throughout the event. Despite the pervasive nature of the role-play during the convention, there are still strict behavior guidelines such as never touching a fursuit without asking, and yielding to costumed attendees at all times as they may be overheating under 80 pounds of sexy she-wolf costume.

Often the brunt of ridicule both inside and outside of fandom, furry LARPers have Anthrocon as a safe haven to share their interests, however given the convention’s growing popularity they may be in more danger of overcrowding than teasing.  (Photo)

                                           Battle of Gettysburg Reenactment, United States

Four score and every year or so, our fathers bring forth a reenactment…

The American Civil War is one of the most popular conflicts among living-history buffs. Among the hundreds of North V. South historical LARP’s staged each year, the annual Battle of Gettysburg reenactment brings the thunder of the rifles alive like no other.

Staged on the anniversary of the actual battles, the Gettysburg reenactment serves as both an important living history lesson and a massive display of the commitment of American Civil War reenactors.  Unlike many staged historical battles this event features actors in specific roles such as General Robert E. Lee, who are on hand to discuss the battle, give their thoughts, and occasionally shoot at dudes. Among the staged skirmishes and live mortar fire demonstrations, the gathering also features a period village and ladies’ period fashion show so the whole family can enjoy themselves.

The outcomes of the staged battles never change as they follow history, but the Battle of Gettysburg Reenactment does reminds us just how hard won each victory was. Also, delicious kettle corn. (Photo)

 

World Steam Expo, United States

Ever wish your iPod needed an external Tesla Coil battery?

The love child of a Wild West reenactment and cyber-punk convention, Steampunk is a genre that delights in creating a sort of alternate history. By taking elements of the past and mashing them up with imagined retro-future technology Steampunk has brought an entirely new aesthetic into being. At the World Steam Expo attendees are encouraged to “show off their steampunk side.”  

The event sees its crowd bring out their bronzed ray guns (re:modded Nerf guns) and baroque goggles to attend panels on haberdashery and time travel. Unlike many other events that encourage commercial character LARPing, the expo draws mainly people acting as original characters with fantastic equipment and personas of their own device. Also on display are a number of modern gadgets which have been retro-fit to match the clockwork aesthetic of the event. Rare is the crowd with more DIY skill than the steampunks. 

The World Steam Expo offers all the amenities of the future with all the corseted delights of the past.  Bring goggles. (Photo)

 
Battle of Hastings Reenactment, United Kingdom

Blood.  Steel.  Historical Accuracy.

If you find gunpowder and cannons a bit too modern, then look no further than England’s Battle of Hastings Reenactment for your living history needs.

This gathering of reenactors celebrates the Battle of Hastings which was fought in 1066 between the Anglo-Saxon and Norman armies. The event is operated by a public association and is thereby rather concerned with accuracy and authenticity.  The participants in the epic battle fight on the very ground the original took place and take care to emulate the original battle strategies of the two armies to show just how the battle was won. Unlike the walls of smoke and rifles seen at more modern reenactments this battle features rows of colorful shields and spears, and crude period swords. Not to mention a few super awesome battle cries.  

The Battle of Hastings Reenactment began as a mid-sized event for participants in the surrounding areas but has now grown draw warriors from all over the globe with the 2006 event drawing more than 25,000 spectators making it the largest pre-gunpowder reenactment ever, so book your ticket now before they are plundered by the Norman horde! (Photo)

World War II Days, Illinois, United States

WWII as you’ve never seen it before!  In Illinois…

Despite many peoples’ general aversion to reliving the world’s more horrible, bloody events, these fearless living history enthusiasts make it a hobby. Many gather each year at the quaint Midway Village Museum grounds in Rockford, Illinois for World War II Days, the largest WWII reenactment in the United States.  

Each year this quiet Illinois museum complex gets transformed into a European village living through the conflict.  Groups of fake Allied soldiers and faux-Axis grunts camp in the surrounding woods and venture into the historic town to stage realistic skirmishes. Larger battles are held in the woods and feature a Japanese opposition force. World War II Days runs over only one weekend at the summer, but it manages to turn a tragic war that changed the face of the world into two days of educational fun!  Don’t miss the USO-style dance!

The Nazi re-enacters have separate cavalry scenes away from the main LARP action. Hey, just because you are reenacting WWII doesn’t mean you want a bunch of goddamn Nazi’s hanging around. (Photo)

Texas Renaissance Festival, United States

Everything is bigger in Texas.  Especially the ren fests.

Smell the roasting quail!  See the knights asteed!  Dance with a maiden beneath the sway of the lute! Have you fallen back in time? Nay, Good Sir! You have arrived at the Texas Renaissance Festival!

In recent years drawing over 45,000 revellers each weekend, the Texas Renaissance Festival is one of the largest medieval society reenactments of it’s kind in the world.  The celebration is spread across eight weekends, each with their own theme to break up the monotone of prancing flautists and turkey legs. Ranging from Pirate Adventure and Roman Bacchanal to 1001 Dreams and Highland Fling, the festival changes it flavor every fortnight to provide a season catering to everyone’s interests. 

While it might not have the name recognition of its fellow Texan festival, the Scarborough Fair, the Texas Renaissance Festival manages to draw its yearly crowds by focusing more on the mead fueled “festival” part than the historically correct “renaissance” element. If they had had keg stands in the medieval times they would have loved them too. (Photo)

 

Jingu Bridge, Japan

Everyday is Halloween in a country that barely recognizes the holiday.

Less an event than an ongoing experiment in building alternate cultures, Japan’s Jingu Bridge has been attracted those who want to create their own world through dress and manners, since the late 60’s.

Otherwise know as the Harajuku Bridge, this site welcomes all manner of costumed loiterers.  You have traditional cosplay, with people dressed as fictional characters, and the more specific “visual kei,” where the costume is meant to emulate the wearer’s favorite musician or band.  These exist alongside such fashion movements as the Ganguro style which is meant to emulate American teens by wearing bleached hair and ultra-tanned skin, or the Gothic Lolita trend which is a mix of Hot Topic darkness with frilly children’s styles.

The various fashions bumping together at the Jingu Bridge might not all have the same rules about playing their roles, but to everyone there its definitely a full-time lifestyle. (Photo

 

The Dinner Detective Long Beach Dinner Cruise, United States

Murder most delicious… (Rimshot).

It was a dark and stormy night.  Your veal cutlet cools in the autumn air as you share light conversation with the assembled guests over a complementary glass of white wine included in the dinner package. The lights flicker and there is a scream!  Someone has been murdered!

Murder mystery dinner is one of the oldest LARP forms, but the pastime is going strong to this day: just ask Dinner Detective Entertainment.

The Dinner Detective offers its largest event, also the largest murder mystery in the United States, on the deck of a cruise ship.  Each ticket includes a three-course meal along with interactive theater (read: awesome mystery LARP). Performers from the company will be randomly seated at the tables to help move the action along, but its up to YOU to try and solve the mystery.  There is even a prize package for the “Top Sleuth” who comes closest to solving the case.

While this type of evening might not appeal to the sword wielding Orcs in the LARP community, the light scares, hearty meal and thrill of the imagined hunt, will definitely keep their retired parents (as well as us here at the Atlas) totally entertained. (Photo)

 

 Dragon-Con Cosplay Parade, Atlanta, United States

Fan-fiction on the march!

While not really a LARP per se the cosplay parade at Dragon-Con still deserves a mention as a bastion of Nerdy dress up awesomeness. It may be the only place you will get to see people dressed as Naruto ninjas rub elbows with the castaways from Lost, while someone dressed as the Progressive Lady from the insurance ads hobnobs with Solid Snake and an Elvis impersonator.  

As a part of Atlanta’s yearly geek culture convention Dragon-Con, the cosplay parade sees its elaborately costumed attendees take to the streets and show off their fantastical home-made finery.  Due to the wide-ranging subjects of the convention itself, the parade welcomes its attendees as any characters they choose or create, which leads to one of the world’s most eclectic cosplay gatherings. Ranging from prop-quality armors to thrift store re-imaginings, each individual gets to role-play their favorite character in a glorious melting pot of nerd culture.  No persona is too obscure and no mash-up too confusing.  The crew of Serenity can follow the Ecto-1, while Geordi LaForge ogles what appears to be She-Ra as a Star Sapphire.

One of the most diverse LARP’s in the world, whether your interests are in sci-fi, fantasy, television or comics, the Dragon-Con parade has something to offer. All is permitted, nothing is sacred. (Photo)

 

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So there you have it. The guide to the worlds most epic LARP’s (And one awesome parade.)

Go forth young adventurers. May the gods be with you.